Heads and governors conflict over who should influence schools policy

Governors and school leaders both believe they, and not the other, should be the biggest influence on school policy, a survey has revealed.

Almost 9 in 10 of 1,300 governors surveyed by The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools, placed themselves top of the list of people who should influence policies in individual schools, followed by the school leadership team, then the headteacher.

However, 81 per cent of school leaders believe they should be the ones most influencing policy. Just 63 per cent thought governors should have any influence at all.

Emma Knights (pictured), chief executive of the National Governors’ Association, said: “The role of the governing board is clear: they set the school’s vision, ethos and strategic direction.

“Headteachers are responsible for the day-to-day running of the school and governing boards hold them to account for the delivery of the strategic plan.

“The word ‘policy’ can mean different things to different people, but governors, as strategic leaders, should operate at the level of principle. They get bogged down with procedure at their peril.”

Governors also believed they were ultimately responsible for addressing problems if a school failed to deliver good standards of education, while school leaders again placed themselves top of the list.

Tony Draper, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said governance was “strategic” and management “operational”, and the distinction needed to be “clearly understood by all, so that governors and trustees are not asked to, and do not try to, involve themselves in day-to-day management”.

The survey suggests, however, that the distinction between strategy and implementation is not so clear.

Mr Draper added: “In successful schools the relationship between governors and school leaders is constructive and involves both challenge and support in equal measure. Indeed, governors and school leaders are judged as one unit by Ofsted, so it is vital that everyone understands their particular roles.”

The findings also revealed that preparing for an Ofsted inspection was only the fifth most difficult challenge facing governors. Teacher workload and morale have become their top two concerns.

In addition, almost half of school governors find it difficult to appoint new recruits to their board. The problem is worse in primary schools where 50 per cent have problems compared with 38 per cent of boards in secondary schools.

And six of the ten governors surveyed in the,report felt school governorship had become less attractive over the past five years.

Fergal Roche, chief executive of The Key, said governors had enormous impact on the nation’s children and young people. “School governance can often be overlooked, but we think it is vital that governors’ voices are heard and their challenges understood.”

He said there was clearly a marked difference between governors and school leaders over who took the “big picture decisions.

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  1. S Ellison

    Governors can decline to adopt a policy prepared by the head teacher: that is an overriding ‘influence’. They also set vision, ethos and strategic directio – policies should reflect those. That is also an overriding influence. Most governors will also know that governors have historically been responsible for requiring and approving school policy. It is hard
    y surprising the governors would regard that as a dominant influence.

    However, Governors can not usually comment in detail on the technical aspect of all policies; especially curriculum policy (if any). Those details are going to be heavily influenced by the head teacher, who is usually responsible for preparing and presenting policy for approval. Easy to see why heads would consider that a key influence.

    In other words, the question turns out not to have been usefully worded, and the answer obtained was as useful as the question. Though maybe the unhelpful answer will help future survey developers …

  2. Victoria Jaquiss

    I was parent governor, then some sort of sort of community governor at kids’ primary and high school. Primary was time-consuming, but while our opinions were welcome, even though a (high-school trained) teacher myself, I recognised that ultimate policy and decisions rested with the head, even when I disagreed.

    At the high school it was different. I sometimes lost the will. . . At the end, when all the forces of darkness lent on us, and after fighting off closure, merger and academisation four times, when the deed was to be done, the half of us who had fought against got sacked, and the IEB strangely consisted of those ex-governors who had most vocally supported academisation.

    Governance – it’s a very imprecise science.